Vaccine for Alcoholics on the Horizon
Scientists led by Juan Asenjo at Chile’s Faculty of Sciences and Mathematics have reported that they are working to develop a new vaccine for alcoholism that causes them to feel a hangover after just one drink.
The vaccine works by neutralizing alcohol dehydrogenase, an enzyme required to metabolize alcohol. Many Asians who lack this enzyme experience nausea, sweating, accelerated heartbeat, and hot flashes when drinking alcohol. Following vaccination, alcoholics who do have the enzyme should experience similar feelings with drinking; the goal is to discourage drinking and reduce alcohol consumption by up to 95%.
The vaccine has already been successful in rodents who are dependent on alcohol. After receiving the vaccination, they reduced their alcohol intake by half.
Scientists are working to mass produce the virus used for the vaccine and are planning to begin human testing by early 2012.
The test could not come at a better time. Nearly 18 million Americans suffer from alcoholism or alcohol dependence. Moreover, the disease is lethal; more than 90% of untreated alcoholics die from alcoholism. While there is no cure, treatment is available and includes detoxification, counseling, and/or drugs to help people remain sober
The current oral medications include disulfiram (Antabuse), naltrexone (ReVia), and acamprosate (Campral). Like the vaccine under development, disulfiram causes an uncomfortable physical reaction that includes nausea and vomiting when a person consumes alcohol. Neither naltrexone or acamprosate make a person feel sick after drinking alcohol. But naltrexone blocks the euphoria alcohol causes, which reduces the desire to drink.
Without these treatment options, overcoming this debilitating disease is extremely difficult. Roughly 96% of alcoholics will relapse in the first year if they try to stay sober on their own. Even with regular counseling and treatment, 3 out of 10 alcoholics will relapse in their first year. The development of vaccine that would make alcoholics more sensitive to the effects of alcohol should help them to remain sober.